The post-WWII housing boom ushered in a new style of American architecture — and décor to furnish it. The Modern Show turns back the clock to highlight modernism and its local legacy.
When The Modern Show kicks off this Friday and Saturday, the McCulloch Pavillion will look a lot like it did when it first opened in 1960.
Back then, it was called the Scott Building, and it served as the showroom for the Barkus Furniture Co. With its large glass storefront, flat roof and open floor plan, the single-story, mid-century modern commercial structure was typical of its time, often referred to as the Sarasota School of Architecture.
Designed by William Rupp and Joseph Farrell, the building was focused on functionality — catching the eye of passing motorists with its bold features and enticing pedestrians with its in-store displays.
Today, the building is home to the Center for Architecture Sarasota, a nonprofit organization founded in 2013 with the goal of preserving — and educating the public on — the cultural impact of Sarasota’s architectural history. And for its inaugural fundraising event since opening its renovated doors last year, the organization wanted to pay homage to its roots in modernism.
For two days, it will host The Modern Show, featuring a mid-century modern furniture, décor and art showcase and sale, guest lectures on modern design and tours of mid-century homes by notable architects Paul Rudolph, Ralph Twitchell and Victor Lundy — there’s even a vintage fashion show. Guests can learn about local architects, admire the collection and even take a step back in time. The donated furniture will be staged in the gallery floor — much like it would’ve been 50 years ago.
Cynthia Peterson, CFAS board chair, says the event is a perfect fit for the organization and its mission.
“We wanted to do something a little different for our first fundraiser,” she says. “I wanted to focus on modernism in Sarasota, because we have such a legacy of that — not just the architects and buildings, but also furniture, décor and art. It’s such an interesting period. Builders and designers were really experimenting with new things.”
Part of the appeal of this style of architecture and design, she says, is its historical significance. After World War II, the surge of veterans returning home and starting families created a housing boom, and a new style of architecture emerged to meet the demand, as well as a new style of furniture to outfit the homes. Gone were the ornate stylings of the past, in favor of clean lines, simple functionality and playful creativity.
The new style was more than just a product of necessity; it was a reflection of evolving American culture and ideals, which Peterson says contributes to its sustained appeal and resurgence.
“You had these new, modern houses,” she says. “You couldn’t fill them with Victorian furniture. People had lanais and needed patio furniture. Things were much more relaxed.”
To prepare for the show, CFAS put out a call for furniture donations, and Peterson says she was impressed with the response. Included in the more than 50 pieces that will be on display and for sale is a Heywood Wakefield desk, a Charles Rennie Mackintosh gateleg folding table and four pieces from the Paul Rudolph Heritage Foundation.
Peterson says she hopes people will gain an appreciation for Sarasota’s place in the modern architecture canon, and maybe they’ll even take a piece home for themselves.
“There are some really incredible pieces,” she says. “We want people to love them as much as we do.”